Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Tale Of Two Extreme Weathers By Roy Yeow

Does the weather affect our performance? What is the ideal weather for optimum performance? How do we go about preparing for these weathers? In December, by chance, I signed up for 2 races that has two different extreme weather - the cold winter weather of Shanghai Marathon and the hottest stretch of tar sealed road in Malaysia, Beaufort Ultra Marathon 60K.

The main concern for Malaysian runner when faced with a cold weather race is what to wear. This is where a balance of wearing enough to keep warm and yet not too heavy is important. I decided to go with a base layer top plus the team tee, compression short with calf compression sleeve, running gloves plus a beanie. It ends up as a good option as I found that the parts that need the most protection from the cold are the ears, neck and upper limbs. 

Shanghai Marathon is one of the main marathon in China. I found the setup to be very similar to other major races that I have participated. Timing are recorded every 5KM, water station every 2.5KM, bib quality (size and material) equivalent to other major marathons. Bag drop is also smooth and easy, identify the bus number you need to drop your bag and just walk up to the bus and give them your bag, done! The route is pretty good, wide and spacious, where the race started from the famous Bund. From there the race will take you through the main shopping area of the city. The second part of the routes is a little boring though as we go through the slightly outskirt of the city with nothing prominent in sight. The crowd support though is definitely better than in Malaysia. The drivers are better behaved as they waited for the police to allow them to continue their journey, there are also some crowds that cheer the runners on the way. The one issue I have is the control into the seeding area during the start of the race. As all category (FM, HM, 10K, fun run) starts together, I ended up entering the race from the back as the B seeding area is already filled with runners from other categories. There are even family/friends in the starting area taking photos with their beloved and one of the support car was parked at the road side blocking runners from moving forward during the flagged off. So if you aim to start from the front in a China race, get yourself to the starting point real early.

Oh ya, toilet visit in cold weather seems to be more common too. Even though I relieved myself before the race, 5KM into the race I have the urged to use the toilet again. And for some reasons, there seems to be lack of toilets along the route. I decided to run straight in when I saw a rare toilet (lucky it was empty) at around 13KM to relieve myself. Even though I lost about 2-3 minutes there, I reckoned I would be able to recover the time back from running stress and bladder free.

Since the hotel is about a kilometer away from the starting point, the walk to the start point is a good warm up and getting the engine (body) to start. With the number of runners involved and all category starting together, there is no point trying to hammer the pace during the first half of the race, I let the shorter distance runners sped off and ran their races while I slowly increased my pace.

Since it has been more than a year since I clocked a sub-4 hours FM, it was my silent goal to try to achieve this in cold weather, and to prove that the colder weather actually helps you to run faster. This is a summary of how the race unfolded:
- At 10KM, I clocked 58 mins, 3 mins slower from my targeted 55 mins, but no worries, still long way to go.
- Once the route split for the HM and FM, I stepped it up and clocked in at 1:53 for 20KM. I was now within sight of the elusive sub-4 that has avoided me since my injury more than a year ago. The calculator app in my brain is now working overtime every km as I evaluated my chance of dipping below 4 hrs. 
- By the 24KM, I have managed to track down the 4:15 hrs pacers. My next goal is to go nearer to the 4 hrs pacers. 
- Hitting 30KM at 2:49, I only have 1:11 to complete the final 12KM, doable but tight. Equipped with Hammer Gels and Endurolytes for this race, I have prepared myself well for the final push.
- When I look at the time at 40KM, I know that all I need now is to avoid cramp and get myself through the finishing line. Although I was still not able to chase down the 4 hrs pacers, I know my chip time is below 4 hours. Finishing strongly as the crowds cheer us on, the clock shows 4:03:45 - calculator app automatically minus 5 minutes to the total - 3:58! I did enough just to dip below 4 hours, job done, rest time!
Roy after finishing Shanghai with fellow Malaysian runner from BKLTL Running Group. Image from BKLTL.
Two weeks later, it is back to the drawing board again as I started my planning for another type of race - hot weather ultra starting at Beaufort.
A 2 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu to the starting point, most of the runners took the opportunity to get extra rest before arriving. As this is a small ultra event, it was totally the opposite of a major marathon. With only about 73 registered participants and I estimated the participants that actually starts to be around 60 persons, this is a small no frills no hype event, which is great considering that the participants are actually all season runners.

The race started at 7AM, which means this is similar to around 8AM in Peninsula Malaysia. With a cut-off of 9 hours for 60KM on flat terrain, this race on paper is runable. If I calculated my sub 4 hours for 42KM in Shanghai, that means I have 5 hours to do another 18KM. That of course is only on paper and not considering the effect of weather. And to add to this, Klang Valley has been raining cats and dogs for the past few weeks, not allowing for any heat running sessions.
The calm (and handsome) before the heat on Beaufort
I divided this race into 3 segments of 20KM each. The goal was to go fast for the first 20KM (about 2:15 hrs) and then slower for the next 20KM (3 hrs) before bringing it home in the last 20KM (3 hrs).
Decided to go as minimal as possible, I opt to carry hydration belt instead of bag, fueled again by Hammer gels, perpetuem solids, endurolytes and anti-fatigue capsules. Sunblock, cap, sunglasses and anything that possible helps you from the sun ray is a must! Started the first 10KM fairly well (1:03) paced by other fast runners, and then hit the 20KM mark around 2:16 (still within plan). However disaster struck here as suddenly, there was an acute back and shoulder pain. Not knowing why it happens, the game plan now is to look forward to the next water support station (every 5KM after 20KM) and to reevaluate the pain. It was tough with the shoulder pain to swing the hand while running so got into walking mode more than running. Tried to include more power walk through the next 20KM, stop for a cool refreshing coke I get from a grocery shop, manage my core body temperature through sponges and hydration, I managed to get to 40KM by 5:34 (about 20 minutes behind my goal). At this point of time, clouds began to appear and there were hope of rains. When the rain started to pour, my pace increased slightly as core temperature is now under control and I just need to make sure I bring it home smoothly. The last 20KM was about 3 hours - job done again around 8:35, finisher number 18 among the starters.
No Monkey Business this.
From these experience I deduced the following important points
1) Core temperature management
- if you can manage your core temperature, you can run. Otherwise your body is in survival mode, aka dangerous time.
2) Adequate hydration/nutrition
- you may not feel like you need water, but you do. You need to figure out the amount you need for any type of weather. Also nutrition will ensure you do not end up with a flat battery.
3) Attire/equipment planning
- Not too much or too less, these planning will help you through your races.

Both cold and hot weathers require a reset of our mental. It looks to me that our body has an automatic fail safe mechanism that limits what we can do when the weather is in extreme condition. Training in the right weather will allow us to manage this limit better and perform better. Make sure you train well in that particular condition if you plan to race in that condition.

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